ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2008 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 54, No 1 - Spring 2008
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas

The Price of Freedom
Remembering January 13th, 1991

The Keynote Speech of Pres. Vytautas Landsbergis, MEP, at the first Lithuanian Prayer Breakfast in London, held at the Hyatt Regency Churchill Hotel on January 12, 2008

Vytautas Landsbergis

Prof. Vytautas Landsbergis, was the Chairman of the Sąjūdis movement, which won the general election and declared Lithuania’s independence on March 11, 1990. He was the first head of state and President of the Lithuanian Parliament from 1990 to 1992. Since 2004 he has served as a member of the European Parliament.

Dear participants in this momentous prayer breakfast! We are here to remember what happened in Vilnius on January 13th, 1991. 

Let us remind ourselves why those events remain important – to us and to Lithuania – and why we remember them every year, and why we feel that our commemoration deserves to be more widely known and understood. 

We are here to recall a very exceptional event – the victory of unarmed people who had gathered together in goodwill over the malevolent forces of militarized evil. We remember that their victory was achieved at the cost of sacrificing lives – something that is fortunately rare in modern Europe. 

The contradiction of that time was an opposition of love and hatred. The struggle of good and evil is of course an eternal and universal thing – and, in those terms, what happened on that January night was not just a local event. Two worlds were colliding in Lithuania at that time. One had its origin with the Teacher of Mankind, known as the son of the carpenter from Nazareth, who lived 2000 years ago. It was He who proclaimed, just before his earthly death, that no one has greater love than those who sacrifice their lives for their friends – we read this in the Gospel of St. John.

We live in a world in which we can recognize ideological slogans when we hear them. The Romans used to say: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (literally, ”Sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s homeland”), though it is doubtful whether they ever recognized the homelands of others. Jesus’ message was different. He said that there was to be no discrimination among His friends – whether they were Jews or Greeks, all were the children of His Father, the one and only Father of all Mankind. He asked us to love the Father as the Father loves us. It means that we are to love each other as brothers and sisters. Such love is the highest truth of the human heart, and this teaching therefore tells us just how we should conduct our lives on this Earth.

This counsel is difficult to follow, but no one has proclaimed a better teaching. Its evangelical guidance tells us that our fellow human being is a friend, a lovable brother or sister, and that the Father gives the right to each brother to choose just one from among all the sisters, the daughters of Eve; and to each sister the right to select just one from among all the earthly brothers!

The followers of the Antichrist do not recognise this brotherly love. Yet, while they are proclaiming their ideology, an ideology of hatred, they sometimes use the same vocabulary as the rest of us and can be found stealing the words of Christ. Thus the word draugas, ‘”friend,” which was very widely used among the liberal Lithuanian intelligentsia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (as were the words Genosse, “comrade,” in German; camerati – ‘mates’ or ‘buddies’- in Italian, and tovarishchi in Russian) was stolen by the Soviets and used misleadingly to define the relationship between the usurpers of power and their loyal subordinates.

When this happened the emphasis and the meaning of the word also changed, as did its sound, according to whether the greeting was being wheedled obsequiously by those below or used contemptuously by those at the top. Prisoners and deportees were never called tovarishchi – in fact it was forbidden to address them in that way.

A single event can be significant. We are here to recall the night of the 13th of January, 1991—now seventeen years ago—when two worlds confronted each other in our capital city of Vilnius.

One of them comprised the tens of thousands of Lithuanian citizens who had gathered that evening. They had not known one another beforehand, but they stood together, united by love, facing another world. That other world was made up of foreign soldiers, standing sullen in serried rows, looking down in cold hatred, their eyes filled with contempt. Even if one tried to look beyond their fixed stares, it would have been difficult to detect a single human soul in their ranks. The only thing that was evident was their blind obedience, their willingness to accept the Satanic order: Go! Beat! Kill!

Only foul oaths and swear words came from the lips of these aggressors, but the thousands defending the TV tower had prayers in their hearts as their lips united in repeating a simple word that expressed love for our homeland and the desire for freedom: “Lie-tu-va! Lie-tu-va!” (Li-thuan-ia! Li-thuan-ia!), repeated by thousands of voices. Yes, Lie-tu-va! Lie-tu-va! Of course, they were chanting “Lithuania” not for the sake of geography, but because its name rejected the violence they faced and the slavery that it stood for.

There was also another cry from the crowd, which asked the aggressors: “Fascists, what are you doing?” These calls seemed to echo what the Teacher once said: “they know not what they do. “The label ”fascist” forced the Soviet soldiers to see themselves as in a mirror, while the reproach,  “What are you doing?” invited them to come to reason, as human beings among human beings, men with fellow men.

When we spoke with the eyewitnesses after the massacre, when the TV tower had been occupied by the Soviet military, and as the dead and the wounded Lithuanians were taken to various hospitals, we were told that a solitary Russian soldier had been seen sitting in an armored vehicle marked with the Red Star that was left standing in the corner of the empty battle ground. He was weeping. Yes, weeping, as a human being weeps. One soul was saved, but at the cost of fourteen deaths. It is an image that recalls the final scene of “La Strada,” The Road by Federico Fellini, where a character who has lived the life of an enraged animal experiences remorse for the first time and is transformed into a human being at the very end.

So what now awaits us at the end of the path we are following – what lies along the road for Lithuania? And what lies at the end of the road for Russia? Shall it be rebirth and revival – or will there be a new collapse brought about because she has poisoned herself?

The Apostle Paul asked – of himself and for others – ”What would I be if I did not have love?” He answered strongly: ”I would be nothing.” Yes, we too would be nothing without love. Lithuania, Great Britain, even Europe itself could be reduced to an angry, frightened and greedy nothing if we do not follow his evangelical teaching – which invites us to live – in other words, to live only in love.

We Lithuanians survived that night of January 13th 1991 because brotherly love, love of freedom and love for our homeland – won against tanks. Such things do not happen often. Let us be aware of this, and remember.

Ačiū visiems! – Thank you, everyone.

Prepared for an English-speaking audience
by Anthony Packer and Darius Furmonavičius